Recent Posts

21 September 2009

You Don't Know What You Don't Know

Tim Cox has an important message that he has agreed to share with our blog readers:

Over the twenty-five years or so of my genealogy experience, I’ve joined a few societies and organizations that interested me but I never got involved with them. I was more interested in being on their mailing lists, and being just a member at large who paid dues and received the monthly or quarterly newsletter. This arrangement suited me just fine because the only two events I ever attended in the 1980s were presentations hosted by the local society I belonged to. I felt really out of place at both events because I was in my twenties and everyone else was much older and way more experienced in genealogy and in life! So I resolved to do it on my own. It would take years for me to realize you don’t know what you don’t know.

I was on top of everything in my research. I had the guides that taught me how to set up correspondence and research logs; how to interview my living relatives and where to go to find census records, wills, and all the records I would need to find my ancestors. I was all set! I purchased a brief case to carry my folders, notepads, magnifying glass (for those hard to read records Bill Dollarhide’s book said I’d come across), pencils, tape recorder for interviews, and a few other things. I was ready for anything and everything!

Then came the computer age: America-On-Line, GEnie, Prodigy and others that are the grandparents of the sites we have today. I quickly picked up on how to communicate on mailing lists and met a lot of faceless online friends. My mother was shopping one day and purchased a family tree program for me. I was between jobs at the time and living at home, so this was a mistake on her part. It took me two weeks to enter in all of the information I had on paper. That was two weeks of not looking for a job! I eventually found one but it didn’t stop me from sitting up all hours of the night chatting and emailing about my ancestors.

Fast forward to 2007.

Over the years I continued researching my ancestors and I still belong to some of the same (and even joined a few new) societies and organizations. I'd also learned tips and tricks from experts in genealogy magazines and websites. I was still doing pretty well doing research on my own – just me, the internet and a couple of subscriptions. I'd read about attending local and national conferences and I guess I secretly wanted to attend one just to see what they were about and perhaps buy a few things for my library. But then I would think – who really needs to go to those things? You don’t know what you don’t know! It was while learning how to use an iPod Nano that I discovered podcasts and The Genealogy Guys. George and Drew had me hooked after just one session so I ended up downloading all of the previous episodes and listening to them all. Because of them I joined the California Genealogical Society and got involved. So involved that I want to do so much more than I really have time for.

And I have some regrets about the decisions I made in my twenties. Now I know I lost a golden opportunity to learn from others at the events I attended and at the societies I belonged to. They knew the history of the region and the state. Because I didn’t want to feel out of place I put myself at a disadvantage.

I’m willing to wager that even today there are people still thinking the same thing. They think that everything is on the internet and they don’t need to join a society or organization. You and I know that this is not true. But what can we do about it? I have a few suggestions.

1. Reach out to the youth and attempt to pull them into the joy of family history.
2. Use the networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace to promote your events.
3. Establish a youth membership level.

You don’t know what you don’t know!

– Tim Cox


Amy Coffin said...


Marian said...

I did the same thing for 30 years! When I was in college, I was assigned to trace my family tree twice! CGS members and volunteers helped me open my blinders on brickwalls and problems.
I agree that youth need to be encouraged to get interested in genealogy early. Libraries could teach them genie library protocol,and welcome them. Perhaps extra credit or credit in a history class could be provided by the schools as well. Thanks for your article!